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To find an archived article, simply click on Index and scroll the subject titles, or do a Ctrl-F search


This archive contains all issues prior to the current week and the three preceding weeks, which are published in 
the main Tallrite Blog (  
The first issue appeared on Sunday 14th July 2002

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ISSUE #8 - 1st September 2002          Index of All Articles in the Archive


ISSUE #9 - 22nd September 2002


ISSUE #10 - 29th September 2002


ISSUE #10 - 29th September 2002 [21]


The Abiding Fear of Saddam’s Senior Lieutenants  


Smoking in the UN General Assembly 


Who Pollutes the Seas with Oil ?


The Inkjet Printer Cartridge Rip-Off


Finland/Russia Border Raids


Blondes Are Dyeing Out

The Abiding Fear of Saddam’s Senior Lieutenants


There can be very few today that doubt that, within months if not weeks, Iraq will be attacked and defeated by America, with or without the support of allies or the UN.  And fewer still on any side who do not view the prospect with a degree of dread, whether or not they support such action.  


How are people thinking within Iraq ?  There are probably four groupings.  

  1. Saddam Hussein himself, 

  2. the senior functionaries that are loyal to him, 

  3. those members of the populace (and armed forces) who support him and 

  4. the rest who in their hearts do not.  

There must be real fear among the groupings C and D, who can hardly relish being at the receiving end of US military technology and soldiery once more.  Grim accounts from the First Gulf War (for example, troops buried alive in the trenches by American bulldozers) will still be fresh in memories, propagated and embellished no doubt through story-telling and myth-making.  Yet they will know that the conflict will come to an end, the situation will stabilise, and most of them will believe that life could hardly get worse and with foreign investment could well get a lot better.  So the fear will be overlain with an element of hope.  


With Saddam himself, there is probably no fear at all, nor doubt that the outcome will be another humiliating defeat of America's imperialist armed forces by the glorious Iraqi heroes.  Saddam has been Iraq's sole, brutal, unbridled dictator for more than 30 years.  As eloquently portrayed by pundit Dale Franks, he has surrounded himself with sycophants who have been telling him for so long what a wise, mighty and invincible ruler he is that he has undoubtedly ended up believing it.  Those who once dared express contrary views, or bear unwelcome news, have long since been dispatched.  And going by Tony Blair's recent 55-page dossier on Iraq, some departed this life in truly horrific ways (eyes gouged out, limbs broken).  


So when he asks his trusted lieutenants, such as Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz or Foreign Minister Naji Sabri "what is your opinion, will our army be able to defeat Bush ?", the answer will come back, "certainly, Sir, without a shadow of doubt the Americans will be routed".  A violent death or a trial in The Hague are so far from Saddam's detached reality that they hold no fear for him.  


That leaves group B - Saddam's closest advisers, military chiefs, Ministers such as Tariq and Naji.  These are the people who today are eaten up with the deepest possible apprehension and dread.  For they are - 


close enough to the armed forces and indeed the Iraqi people to understand the true, wretched state of Iraq's military defences and popular morale, 


close enough to the leader to understand his deranged state of mind, and 


worldly enough to realise that America is an enraged hyperpower that Iraq cannot hope to resist for very long.  


They must therefore be contemplating the two stark choices now facing them : 


  1. Either stay loyal to Saddam, in the certain knowledge that they will be 

    killed in the conflict, or


    put on trial in The Hague followed by a life sentence, or 


    spend the rest of their lives on-the-run, hiding in caves 
    like Al Qaeda.

  2. Or try to save themselves by betraying Saddam, by, say, defecting or providing covert intelligence to the enemy, but risk a most terrible death for themselves and their families if Saddam finds out.


Think about this when you see these individuals talking defiantly on TV - their faces are but facades that hide true terror.  Each of them knows his personal game is up.  


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Smoking in the UN General Assembly 


The UN General Assembly is so adept at reaching agreement on important issues that it cannot decide whether its meeting chamber should be smoking or non-smoking.  

The chamber displays big signs saying "Smoking Discouraged", whatever that means.


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Who Pollutes the Seas with Oil ?


Everyone knows the answer to this one - it's the oil companies with their offshore exploration and production activities, isn't it ?  Every year, they pour 39,000 tonnes of oil into the world's oceans.  


Well, er, actually no.  According to a new report from the US National Academy of Sciences by 14 respected US scientists, engineers and researchers, this 39,000 tonnes amounts to only 3% of marine oil pollution.  Oil industry transportation (pipelines, oil tankers, etc) accounts for a further 12%.  


These figures compared with the total amount of oil pollution in the sea, which is 1.3 million tonnes a year, the size of a small oilfield.  The US contributes about a fifth of this.  


But the biggest human polluters are not the oil industry at all - they are consumers, which include you and me.  Consumers are responsible for - 



Land-based runoff of fuels and lubes from city streets and all sorts of machines into rivers and the sea, 




discharges by (non oil industry) ships, 


jettisoned aircraft fuel, 


atmospheric deposition.  


These all add up to 38%.  The runoff is particularly damaging due to the environmental sensitivity of the receiving waterways, bays, and estuaries.  


Surprisingly, the biggest single polluter, contributing 47%, is however, nature herself in the form of natural seepage from subterranean and sub-seafloor oil deposits.  

In the USA, the oil companies in total contribute just 4½% to marine pollution compared with 15% worldwide.  


The findings of the report are summarised in a hard-to-read table, but here is a an easy-to-read summary of the summary.  


Marine Oil Pollution Caused By    

In the World

In the USA only






Petroleum Extraction


3 %


1 %

Petroleum Transportation


12 %


3½ %

Petroleum Consumption


38 %


32½ %

Natural Seepage


47 %


63 %

Total Pollution


100 %




We should always be prepared to challenge received wisdom, in this case about the oil industry's polluting performance.  


This is especially so in anything concerning the environment where a whole industry, for the sake of its own survival and growth, is dedicated to convincing us that things are bad and getting worse, when the converse is usually true.  


Note : 1 kilotonne of oil = 308,000 US gallons = 7,330 barrels

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The Inkjet Printer Cartridge Rip-Off


Last week's Economist had a long (subscription-only) article featuring and praising the inkjet printer.  It is truly a marvellous invention, printing out colour documents accurately, quietly, speedily.  And for the amount of technology it's not expensive - you can buy an excellent one in Ireland for only €150-200; less in lower taxed countries.  


But this of course is a ruse.  The business model followed by Hewlett Packard, Canon, Epson and the rest is to sell the printer as a loss-leader and make their money on the replacement ink cartridges. Because the black and the colour cartridges for that €150 printer will cost you €35-45 each and you need two of them.  In other words, with two refills you have shelled out the original purchase price.  


However, the manufacturers are so greedy they have spawned a new industry in refilled cartridges and refilling kits.  Sites like or will charge half as much for refilled cartridges, including delivery.  If you use refill kits from sites like or the cost is halved again (but it's a bit messy).  From personal experience, refilled cartridges work as well as new cartridges, and not only are you saving money, but you are also minimising environmental waste. 


I have no personal interest in any of these companies - I just want to share the information in case readers are getting ripped off like I used to be.  


Gillette are pulling a similar stunt with razors where a simple sensor blade now cost over a €uro.  But I haven't heard of anyone selling reconditioned blades cheap !


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Finland/Russia Border Raids


A family of seven foxes are reportedly living in the Finnish Ambassador's garden in London, feeding on live ducks from a nearby pond and invading the Russian Embassy next door to chew up tennis balls.  The Finns say their embassy is Finnish soil, that the foxes are therefore Finnish, and huntsmen in Red Coats with packs of hounds will not be admitted.  For his part the Russian ambassador graciously says he will desist from launching reprisal raids despite the long history of border disputes between Russia and Finland.  


The UN Security Council is breathing a sigh of relief.  


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Blondes Are Dyeing Out


According to the UK's Daily Express (unfortunately no online version), the World Health Organization has reported that the blonde gene is dying out and in 200 years natural blonds and blondes will be extinct.  This is due to two factors :



When a blond/e and a non-blond/e produce a child, the dark-hair gene is usually dominant so the child turns out non-blond/e; 


Men find non-blonde women who dye their hair blonde more attractive than natural blondes, probably because the non-blonde blonde is blonder (apart from the roots).  This gives the bottle-blonde a breeding advantage.  It seems that if blondes have more fun, bottle-blondes have even more fun ... 


So if your spouse/partner is a natural blond/e, treasure him/her, and cut off a lock of hair for posterity.  

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ISSUE #9 - 22nd September 2002 [61]

Iraq : To Warmonger or Negotiate ?


Bin Laden Is Dead


Jemimah Khan as Islamic Ambassador


Windmills Kill Birds


Jack Welch - GE's Charismatic CEO


Gibraltar - How Not To Woo It


Want To Know How Big He Is ?

Iraq : To Warmonger or Negotiate ?

The European media, and also some in the US, teem with anti-war, anti-US, anti-Bush sentiment.  Let's go with the flow for the moment.  

George W Bush proclaims that - 


Iraq holds weapons of mass destruction (WMD), 


it is trying to increase and diversify its arsenal to include nuclear weapons and 


it has Western targets in his sights.  

But he has no definitive proof and plenty of people say this is all exaggerated out of all proportion.  

Nevertheless, Dubya wants and expects the world to support him and help him attack Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein, but only Tony Blair is sufficient of a warmonger to make the offer.  Everyone else believes that disputes should be resolved peaceably, through UN negotiations, not by blood-letting.  Chancellor Gerhard Schöder of Germany has been staking his re-election on it.  

So, who are the good guys ?  The would-be negotiators or the would-be warriors ?

This raises at least four interesting questions :

  1. Tony Blair's recent speech to his Trades Union Congress and Bush's to the UN General Assembly the day after the September 11th commemorations effectively dare the UN to live up to its charter and give meaning to its numerous unrequited resolutions on Iraq. 

    So, should Iraq be forced to honour its UN obligations, which you may recall it agreed to as a condition for halting the march on Baghdad during the first Gulf war 12 years ago ?

  2. Until kicked out of Iraq four years ago, the UN weapons inspectors found that Saddam did indeed have - and hide - WMD (and it seems scarcely credible that he would have ceased his WMD programme once the inspectors had been got rid of).  His record in invading neighbours and gassing even his own citizens is well documented.  Wouldn't it therefore be more logical to place the onus on Iraq to prove its claim that it has destroyed its WMD (easily done via unfettered weapons inspection) rather than on the US to prove it hasn't ?  

  3. New Zealand's much-feared All Blacks rugby team used to believe in "getting the retaliation in first".  This is not very sporting, but is it not more sensible to stop Saddam before he makes yet another aggressive move, rather than wait until a suicide bomber detonates a nuclear bomb in Paris, say ?   The stakes will be played in thousands, perhaps millions of human lives. 

  4. Suppose the Iraqi people were given a free choice (not that they ever have been asked what they want) :  


Either continue in poverty as your leaders squander your oil-for-food
money on further armaments and palaces, and remain under the
iron control of Saddam's secret police and praetorian guard, where
none but his own tight circle can hope to prosper; 


Have Saddam removed, even with the accidental loss of 
some innocent civilian lives, and install a new government elected by,
and fighting for the interests of, all Iraqis, under the rule of law. 


Do you think the benighted Iraqis might just opt for the second alternative ?

If you answered 'yes' to the four questions, then, sorry, you are a war monger who believes the world should be made a better and safer place for Iraq and all mankind.  In my view, those who answer 'no' favour - under a thin veneer of hypocritical "caring" - subjugation, corruption, and wanton murder and don't care if the world gets more dangerous. 

There are no pain-free answers, but personally I am 100% with B&B. 


Iraq's recent letter to the UN Secretary General agreeing, under American-inspired pressure, to re-admit weapons inspectors includes this statement :

"In targeting Iraq, the United States administration is acting on behalf of Zionism, which has been killing the heroic people of Palestine, destroying their property, murdering their children and seeking to impose their domination on the whole world, not only militarily, but also economically and politically." 

In other words, America is nothing but a huge Jewish plot.  Pure 1930s anti-Semitic Hitler-speak.  

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Bin Laden Is Dead

Is Osama bin Laden dead, seriously injured or alive and well ?

In my opinion, bin Laden, not having been verifiably heard from since the release of an hour-long videotape way back last December, must surely be either dead or badly wounded.  

Think of it from the viewpoint of bin Laden himself and his supporters.  They have not been beaten, but they have suffered dire setbacks - 


kicked out of Afghanistan in a war of dreadful losses (reporting restrictions have prevented revelation of the true scale), 


harassed across the globe, 


key leaders killed (eg Mohammed Atef in November 2001) or captured (eg Ramzi Binalshibh in September 02), 


600 imprisoned colleagues having Al Qaeda secrets extracted from them for the past year in Guantanamo Bay, 


bank accounts frozen across the globe,


telecommunications constantly monitored.  

If you were bin Laden, you would surely want to reassure your followers around the world that you were alive and well and that the fight against the Great Satan is continuing and will ultimately be successful.  Likewise, if you are hiding or are a 'sleeper' in a distant country, as thousands of Al Qaeda operatives apparently are, you would be desperate to receive such reassurance in the face of all the depressing publicity coming from the conventional media.  But because of the widespread nature of the Al Qaeda diaspora, coupled with the relentless monitoring of telecommunications and suspects, this reassurance cannot convincingly be transmitted by word of mouth, by clandestine bits of paper, by e-mails etc.  Leakage and traceability would be impossible to prevent.  

Really, the only way to get such a message across is by using the media, for instance a videotape again, as bin Laden has so effectively done in the past.  Another stirring and defiant speech, perhaps holding up today's copy of a popular Arabic newspaper, is all that would be required.  

And not only would this help immeasurably the morale of his supporters, but it would enrage President Bush and the West.  Truly a double whammy.  

For example, shortly after Bill Clinton sent missiles in August 1998 to attack al Qaeda in Sudan and Afghanistan following the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, bin Laden's defiant voice came crackling across in a radio transmission, "By the grace of God, I am alive !".  Just think how thrilling that must have been for his thousands of supporters.   

Why hasn't he done something like this since last December ?  

Because he's dead, that's why, or so badly injured that sight of him would provide the opposite of the effect desired.  

There is no other explanation.  

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Jemimah Khan as Islamic Ambassador

I see that the youthful and glamorous former socialite Jemimah Khan


daughter of late billionaire Sir James Goldsmith, 


close friend of Princess Diana, 


wife of Pakistani cricket star turned politician Imran Khan, 


mother of two sons, 

is contemplating becoming an ambassador of Islam to the western world.  Jewish by birth, raised as a Christian, now converted to Islam, and an internationally recognized  and popular face, there can be few who rival her head-start in such a rôle.  

Likewise there can be little doubt of the need for Islam to explain itself better to Christians and Jews in the Western democracies.  

Since the September 11th atrocity, Muslims have been relentlessly portrayed by western media as extremist, intolerant and implicitly - if not explicitly - supportive of terrorism against Western  targets.  The media are undoubtedly partly to blame for these distortions, but Muslims in general do little to help their cause.  Very few Muslim leaders have stood up publicly - 


to loudly condemn acts of terrorism such as suicide-bombings, 


to say that such acts are contrary to the teachings of Islam, 


that the terrorists act for no-one but themselves and 


that they disgrace Islam and all right-thinking Muslims.  

It doesn't help that Islam has no clear hierarchy in the way that Christianity, for example, does.  There is no-one like the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury  who can speak for Islam as a whole or even for individual Islamic sects.  

Nevertheless, this does not excuse the shameful silence of the vast majority of Muslim clerics to denounce dirty deeds done using Islam as an excuse and a cover.  

Let's hope Jemimah can do something to redress Western perceptions of Islam.  

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Windmills Kill Birds

There has recently been some debate within Ireland about the country's plans to install the world's biggest windfarm, comprising 200 windmills (or wind turbines as they prefer to be known) ten kilometres offshore the eastern coast of Ireland.  Much noise is being made about birds being killed by flying into the rotor blades.  In fact this is one of the principal objections to this clean, renewable energy source.  The others are noise (but modern windmills hardly make any), and visual pollution (debatable, but anyway when they're offshore they won't be so "in your face").  

Windmills do indeed kill birds - in Denmark 30,000 per year, in the USA 70,000, according to the published data. 

These unfortunate casualties should, however, be seen in the perspective of bird losses from other causes.  In Denmark, so the literature tells us, traffic alone kills over one million birds annually, in Holland over 2m, and in the USA 57m.  In the USA, another 97m birds a year die just by colliding with plate glass, while Britain's 9m domestic cats kill 55m birds (which is only one each every two months).  

If the objective is to save birdlife, therefore, tilting at windmills should be well down anyone's priority list. 

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Jack Welch - GE's Charismatic CEO

A recent piece in the Economist, quoting academic studies from the Academy of Management (unfortunately both are subscription services), said that CEOs who were charismatic tended to do less well for their company's share price than non-charismatic CEOs, but were paid more.  

An exception is probably the charismatic Jack Welch (or as he was sometimes known, Neutron Jack, for his reputation for firing people while keeping the physical assets intact).  From 1980 to 2001, he was the famed and much admired CEO of General Electric, who raised its market  value by no less than $400 BILLION !  And he was certainly paid very well.  

He is now retired but things are not good on the home front as his wife Jane is divorcing him.  Not only that but the divorce proceedings have uncovered the retirement perks that go with his $9m per year pension, and this has enraged a lot of people, GE shareholders included.  The perks, which are "unconditional and irrevocable" include : 


use of a palatial $15m Manhattan apartment owned by GE, plus all the associated costs, such as wine, food, flowers, laundry, toiletries, newspapers, restaurant bills


satellite TV at his four homes 


security services in all four homes 


chauffeured limousine service


use of GE's private aircraft (fixed wing and helicopters)


security personnel during foreign travel


four country club fees,


floor-level seats to the New York Knicks


a skybox at Red Sox games


a box at Yankee games


a box at the Metropolitan Opera


courtside seats at the US Open


VIP seats at Wimbledon Centre Court

Nice to know he won't have to touch much of his actual pension.  Or his life savings of a mere $900m !

Late Note - I've just learnt from The Economist that Jack Welch, under the burden of embarrassment, has agreed to forego some of his unconditional and irrevocable retirement perks.

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Gibraltar - How Not To Woo It

I visited Britain's 2½ square mile Mediterranean exclave, Gibraltar, in September whilst in Spain, driving along the beautiful Costa del Sol from the East.  You see the Rock from some 30 km away; it dominates the distant horizon behind the lesser hills that intervene.  The final 15 minutes are across a flat plain over which the Rock towers malevolently, as a permanent, insulting reminder to the Spanish that they signed it away in 1713 and have never got it back.  I can understand some of their anger and bitterness and why they believe it is rightfully theirs.  

Gibraltar itself is a pretty little place, worth a day's visit, though not longer.  


The little town is full of tiny, colourful and historic buildings; 


patriotic bunting spans the streets; 


you can buy tax-free English beer and traditional fish & chips; 


petrol is only 75 €uro-cents per litre (compared with 80 in Spain, 90 in Ireland and about 120 in the UK).  

With just 30,000 people, Gibraltar is so small it is not unusual to see the Chief Minister, Peter Carauna, being driven in his modest limousine (registration number G1) or striding down the street to a cabinet meeting or whatever.  

You can drive - or, if hardy, hike - up the Rock, following a route that takes you past military battlements, tunnels, castles.  You can photograph the famous Barbary apes, sitting on the hills and walls, placid, unafraid, unaggressive, and reflect about the legend that so long as they remain, the outcrop will remain British.  Winston Churchill took this so seriously that when ape numbers began to dwindle due to the privations of the second world war, he directed that a few more be shipped in from Morocco.  

For most of its British existence, Gib has been an invaluable strategic asset, guarding the gateway to the Mediterranean, servicing the Royal Navy's vessels, garrisoning reinforcements for troublesome imperial outposts in Africa, keeping the Spanish wary.  

But it has lost its strategic importance for Britain in today's world where geopolitics, military technology and communications are so different, and where moreover Britain and Spain are close partners and allies within the EU, NATO and the WTO to name but three.  It now embarrasses the British Government who would dearly love to hand it over to Spain as Hong Kong was to China.  And so it would, were it not for the pesky Gibraltarians and their democratic tendencies, who resolutely refuse to countenance anything short of continued total Britishness that has been their patrimony for nearly 300 years.  They currently plan a referendum to reinforce this very point - which is enraging (democratic) Spain and which (democratic) Britain says it will ignore.  

You would think that if Spain wanted Gibraltar it would seek ways to woo the inhabitants.  But no, the converse.  Trade is impeded, telephone access restricted, even Spanish road signs to Gibraltar barely exist.  When I left Gibraltar I had to queue for over an hour because two desultory Spanish customs officials (at this "open" EU border) asked every car about cigarettes and whiskey and searched many, all in blatant go-slow mode designed to deter repeat visits.  

It will be a very long time before the Gibraltarians willingly fall into the arms of their Spanish suitors.  

See also my earlier piece contrasting Gib with Spain's own exclaves in Morocco (which Spain always says are totally different situations).  

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Want To Know How Big He Is ?

A most erudite website applies a new mathematical formula to estimate the length of a man's, er, most intimate possession, based on the size of his gloves, shoes and nose.  Apparently the formula has been applied successfully in respect of British politicians Charles Kennedy (3½"), Tony Blair (4½") and Ian Duncan Smith (a world-beating 5½").  Anyone know Bill Clinton's shoe size ?  

Those of a delicate or refined disposition should click elsewhere ...

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ISSUE #8 - 1st September 2002 [41]


World Population Trend - Disaster or Boon ?  


The Rose of Tralee


Sooty for Head of State




Microsoft's Chief Executive in Action

World Population Trend - Disaster or Boon ?  

With the Johannesburg World Summit in full swing, we’re hearing a lot about the world population explosion and how this is responsible for people starving and how it will continue and get worse for ever. 

As few professional environmentalists or NGOs will admit, this long term view of the world is balderdash. 

Take the population explosion.  In 1750 the world had fewer than one billion people but by 1950 this had risen to about 2½ bn.  Since then it’s been racing up at about 40 million per year, reaching six billion this year and forecast to continue at this rate for another four decades.  This is an explosion by anyone’s reckoning - click on the thumbnail on the right to have a closer look.

 worldpop2050.jpg (129819 bytes)

Click to enlarge


If, however, you look at the forecast to 2200, you can see that from 2050 the world’s population growth starts slowing and by 2150 has flattened out at ca 11 billion people.  This shows that the explosion is a temporary phenomenon that will eventually stabilise albeit at almost double today’s population.  Click on the second thumbnail to see the complete graph.  (The figures in the graphs are reputable - they are published in a yearly report by the United Nations Population Division, the same source used by environmentalists and NGOs.)

 worldpop2200.jpg (51903 bytes)

Click to enlarge

So what’s happening ?  We need to understand the mechanism for population growth. 

It is not that people (as often alleged in respect of the developing world) are "breeding like rabbits".  It is because of a dramatic increase since 1750 in availability of food, medicine, clean water, sanitation and other health promoting knowledge and practices.  In other words it is the result of life being prolonged; we’re simply not "dying like flies", as we used to.  

Meantime, societies continue to migrate from agricultural to more prosperous urban lifestyles.  


In agricultural communities, children are cheap to raise because they help work the fields, and they provide security for their parents in old age, so therefore parents produce relatively more of them – currently an average of 3.1 per woman in the developing world.  


But once families move to the cities, as they tend to because the economic conditions there are better, things change.  Children become a net expense because they must be educated, don’t contribute to the family coffers and are more likely to leave it to the State to support their parents in old age.  Therefore, logically, people produce fewer children, which explains the developed world’s fertility rate of 2.1 children, which is roughly humankind’s required replacement level.   

(The above fertility figures are again from the UN and may be found in this large PDF file.)

There is a lag of course, and this explains the "explosion".  


The improved food, sanitation etc make their impact felt first in terms of fewer deaths.  


The dropping birth rate is a longer process, depending as it does on each country’s overall economic development.  

But eventually, everything balances out again, but at a much higher level – 11 bn in 2150 compared with 1 bn in 1750.  (The effect of the tragic AIDS epidemic may cause stabilisation to occur at a lower level.) 

The important point to note is that this population increase is the result of human success not human failure.  Not welcoming it is like saying that you would prefer to see less food, less medical care, less water, less sanitation, all leading to earlier death for your fellow human beings.   

That is not to say the world is without problems - 2m people still die every year due to lack of clean water, which diverting funds from the worthless Kyoto Protocol would solve in just two years, as I argued in an earlier piece.  

But things are getting better not worse - today only 20% of the developing world have no easy access to clean drinking water compared with 70% in 1970 (according to the World Bank's World Development Report, the UN and others). 

In a future blog, I will explain the world’s success in providing food for its population now and in the future, especially compared with the past.

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The Rose of Tralee

There are the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions and many suchlike trials of beauty.  But there is one international competition similar to but strikingly different from any of them.  It is Ireland’s annual festival to find the “Rose of Tralee”, which takes place during August to the strains of the ballad of that name and in the small town of Tralee in the south-west of Ireland. 



Is it a beauty competition ?  

Well kind of, but you don’t have to be a beauty to win, in fact liposuction, cosmetic surgery and botox seem unknown to the contestants.   


Can anyone enter ?  

Any single, childless woman from anywhere in the world who has a connection to Ireland, however distant or tenuous.  Over the years, contestants, each known as the “Rose of …” (say, Texas), have come from different counties of Ireland and from various parts of North America, the UK, Australasia, the Middle East, the Far East, the EU, South Africa.  They typically range from 17 year old schoolgirls to 25 year old double-graduates in business management.   


What must a Rose do ?  

Look glamorous in a stunning ballgown, never be seen in a bikini, be upbeat in an interview and do a turn, in an event broadcast live on Irish TV, and commanding the country's biggest audience of the year.  And then be judged by a panel.  


What’s a “turn” ?  

Ah, that’s what makes the Rose of Tralee different.  Each girl must carry out some kind of (innocent!) performance on stage.  Sing a song, play the trumpet, recite a poem, dance an Irish jig, do a magic trick.  Quality is not the magic ingredient being sought, but some kind of innocent charisma.  Therefore, the girls get away with singing off-key, messing up their lines, playing the wrong notes, blushing, weeping, forgetting the punch line, and it's all taken in good fun.  (Though very few end up with recording contracts.) 


And out of it all, the judges - themselves selected on some inscrutable basis - decide, based on mysterious criteria no-one knows, which Rose will conferred as the new Rose of Tralee.  She wins a bit of Waterford crystal, just 5,000 uro, a goldish-coloured tiara, a tiny logo-covered Smart car on a year’s loan (not a gift!) and various other sponsors’ cheap give-aways.  Lavish is not the word for it. 


The winner in 2002, the 44th festival, was the Rose of Italy, the delightful  Tamara Gervasoni, who takes the Rose of Tralee sash from last year’s winner, Lisa Manning, who was the Rose of Perth (Australia).  It is the first time that Italy have entered the competition, so they’ve made a good start.  Tamara can look forward to a year of  photo shoots, interviews, balls, openings and celebrity appearances in Ireland and Italy.  


It is a truly weird kind of event in today's world, but utterly charming.  Read the Boston Globe's take.  


Late note
See follow-up post in 2007

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Sooty for Head of State


An outfit called conducted an online survey of 30,000 respondents in the UK to see who people would most like to be their head of state, out of a list of sixteen.  This is the result, no doubt to the Queen’s immense relief since she tops it. 


  1. Queen Elizabeth II

  2. Prince William (second in line to the throne)

  3. Jeremy Paxman (a rottweiler TV interviewer)

  4. Sooty (hand-held children’s puppet)

  5. Richard Branson (billionaire businessman, head of Virgin Airlines)

  6. Rolf Harris (Australian singing and painting TV entertainer)

  7. David Beckham (Manchester United footballer)

  8. Trevor Macdonald (highly-polished, knighted TV presenter who is black)

  9. Charles Kennedy (Scottish leader of the Liberal Democratic party)

  10. Will Young (gay winner of a TV Pop Idol competition)

  11. Barbara Windsor (ageing but bubbly buxom comedy actress)

  12. Prince Charles (who’s he ?)

  13. Tony Blair (prime minister, leader of Labour)

  14. Ian Duncan Smith (would-be prime minister, leader of the Tories)

  15. Anne Widdecombe (large, aggressive, articulate Tory politician)

  16. Ken Livingstone (formerly “Red Ken”, scourge of Margaret Thatcher, now Lord Mayor of London)


Note that the puppet Sooty, at #4, is well ahead of the heir to the throne (#12) or Tony Blair (#13).  Some respondents said that as a puppet he is more honest than politicians.  


However, New Zealanders reportedly like Sooty because, as rugby players, they respect a real man - or a real guinea pig. Down there they have heard that Sooty is a real live rodent who became famous for fathering 43 babies in one sweaty night.  According to his owner Carol Feehan, he last year received a large volume of valentine cards postmarked New Zealand. "He has a big following down there," she says.  Had this information been available to the pollsters, Sooty would probably have beaten Jeremy Paxman  


(As regards Prince William coming 10 places ahead of his father Prince Charles, it reinforces my own belief that the succession to the Queen will probably be determined by a nationwide ballot between father and son.  People will not accept the straight hereditary principle.) 

Back to Index

G U B U 


"Gross, Unbelievable, Bizarre, Unprecedented !"  Charles Haughey, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland uttered these memorable words, quickly shortened to GUBU, in a press conference in 1982 after it emerged that a double-murderer, Malcolm Macarthur, was found shacking up in the exclusive seaside home of the Attorney General, Paddy Connolly, who only 12 hours later jumped on a plane to New York.  


In his confusion, Mr Haughey was trying to explain 


why it was OK for Mr Connolly to fly away to America, 


why it was also OK to order him to return forthwith to face the music and 


how everything was, well, GUBU.  


GUBU has since entered the Irish Lexicon, with particular reference to Mr Haughey himself.  


Malcolm  Macarthur was an educated, well-dressed man-about-town who had never done a day's work in his life thanks to his father's generous bequest of £70,000 (worth $500,000 today).  Life was a rosy round of pubs, parties, friends, banter until he began to run out of money.  


So he decided to copy the IRA by robbing banks, and for this he needed a car and a gun.  According to reports, he bludgeoned to death a young nurse, Bridie Gargan, for her car, and two days later shot dead Donal Dunne, a farmer, with the shotgun the farmer thought he was selling to him.  


Having shaved off his beard and changed his clothes to hide his identity from witnesses, he sought sanctuary with his friend of eight years, the Attorney General, to whose apartment the police soon tracked him down.  


After interrogation, he pleaded guilty to murdering the nurse, was convicted and sentence to life, but was never prosecuted for killing the farmer.  


Because of the guilty plea, there was no trial and no details of either murder were ever presented in court, no doubt to the immense relief of the two hugely embarrassed politicians.  Paddy Connolly resigned but Charles Haughey managed to hang on.  Murmurs of a stitch-up persist to this day.  


In fact, Mr Haughey remained in power, with one interruption, for some ten more years, but sank ever deeper into a morass of corruption and dubious behaviour vis-a-vis Northern Ireland.  And as the Taoiseach became more brazen, GUBU seemed in the mind of the public to fit its creator ever better. 


And GUBU to this day has become a kind of short hand description of Charles Haughey as he lives out his retirement in disgrace while stories of his behaviour reach the public via tribunals of enquiry into his alleged corruption.  


Malcolm Macarthur, after 20 years in jail, is being considered for parole, which is why this GUBU story is rearing its weird head once more.  


And there is even a gay bar in Dublin called GUBU .  

And, since December, a blog called GUBU

Back to Index

Microsoft's Chief Executive in Action

I read in a paper that Ireland (along with other European countries) is shortly to be graced with the exalted presence of Microsoft's chief executive, Mr Steve Bulmer, who will be visiting key customers and staff.  Those who would like to see him in action in his own inimitable style, at a recent big meeting of Microsoft employees, can enjoy the experience by clicking here.  Don't miss it !

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 What I've recently
been reading

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tol, 2006
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy Tol (2006),
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a household lemon tree as their unifying theme.

But it's not entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, 2004

See detailed review


Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. 

BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term technical sustainability.  

Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in Russia.  

The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that had become poisonous and incompetent. 

However the book is gravely compromised by a litany of over 40 technical and stupid errors that display the author's ignorance and carelessness. 

It would be better to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying. 

As for BP, only a wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.

Note: I wrote my own reports on Macondo
May, June, and July 2010


Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:


how the death penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,


the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and


Singapore's enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship

More details on my blog here.


Product Details
This is nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s incredible story of survival in the Far East during World War II.

After recounting a childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen, Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on Germany in 1939.

From then until the Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror. 

After a wretched journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless garrison.

Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in 1941, he is, successively,


part of a death march to Thailand,


a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),


regularly beaten and tortured,


racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,


a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,


shipped to Japan in a stinking, closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,


torpedoed by the Americans and left drifting alone for five days before being picked up,


a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic bomb.

Chronically ill, distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life.  Only in his late 80s is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this unputdownable book.

There are very few first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical document.


Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies
Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies

This is a rattling good tale of the web of corruption within which the American president and his cronies operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.

With 75 page of notes to back up - in best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife. 

Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett, Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book. 

ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine it is.


This much trumpeted sequel to Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment. 

It is really just a collation of amusing little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour and situations.  For example:


Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.


People aren't really altruistic - they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.


Child seats are a waste of money as they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.


Though doctors have known for centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection, they still often fail to do so. 


Monkeys can be taught to use washers as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.

The book has no real message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.

And with a final anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in its tracks.  Weird.


False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics. 

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as


Why does asparagus come from Peru?


Why are pandas so useless?


Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth?


Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

It's central thesis is that economic development continues to be impeded in different countries for different historical reasons, even when the original rationale for those impediments no longer obtains.  For instance:


Argentina protects its now largely foreign landowners (eg George Soros)


Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs


The US its cotton industry comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce

The author writes in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to digest. 

However it would benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide natural break-points for the reader. 


Burmese Outpost, by Anthony Irwin
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.

The author was a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to harass Japanese lines of command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of India.   

Irwin is admirably yet brutally frank, in his descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness. 

He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved authority of the British. 

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

Oh, and Irwin describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF Brennan.


Other books here

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